Ethical hacking certification offered by McAfee

* Protect your network by learning how to attack it

A division of McAfee is teaching IT professionals how to think like hackers and attack their own networks in a new course that lets network managers earn a popular certification for ethical hacking.

McAfee’s Foundstone Professional Services is responding to a market need by offering the Certified Ethical Hacking course, says Bill Hau, the head of Foundstone, noting that clients have been asking McAfee to provide this certification.

The course is intensive, lasting five days from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., with an exam on the sixth day. IT pros learn the basics on how to hack into a system in a hands-on lab environment.

“If you want to know how to protect networks, you have to be able to think like a hacker, think outside the box. What do hackers think about when they try to break into a system,” Hau says.

The course started this year and teaches students how perimeter defenses work, how intruders scan networks and escalate privileges, and what steps can be taken to secure a network. Social engineering, DDoS attacks, buffer overflows, virus creation and intrusion detection are among the covered topics.

Foundstone’s course is based on standards and guidelines from the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants’ (EC-Council), which created the Certified Ethical Hacker exam certification.Ethical hackers are similar to penetration testers, and commonly have jobs within large organizations where they are trusted to uncover weaknesses by penetrating internal networks and computer systems using the same methods as a hacker, according to the EC-Council.

“Hacking is a felony in the United States and most other countries,” the Council states. “When it is done by request and under a contract between an Ethical Hacker and an organization, it is legal.”

Thousands of IT pros have earned the ethical hacking certification over the years, including employees of large organizations like Cisco, Novell, HP, Microsoft, SAP, IBM, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Defense. The certification is intended for security officers, auditors, security professionals, and site administrators. Courses have been offered by numerous companies, including the InfoSec Institute and New Horizons

About half the people who take the course already have a good handle on the material, but need the certification, Hau says. The other half are learning entirely new skills, he says.

Though it may seem the technology industry pays constant attention to security, Hau has noticed a certain level of naivete in IT departments. Foundstone performs network assessments for clients, breaking into their systems to discover weak points a hacker might attack. “Half the time [the clients] come back and say ‘why would somebody want to do that?’” Hau notes.

While everyone knows security is important, Hau thinks some network professionals don’t recognize the true danger because they haven’t suffered breaches themselves and incidents are rarely reported publicly. (Compare Patch and Vulnerability Management products)

“Everybody knows there’s an issue out there, but nobody’s aware it’s an issue until it happens to your organization,” Hau says. “People don’t want other people to know what’s happened, so there’s a big disconnect between what’s actually happened out there and what’s been reported in the press.”

Foundstone offers numerous ethical hacking courses, including one called “Ultimate Hacking,” but the Foundstone CEH course is its only course with a certification exam.

The Foundstone CEH course was first offered in January in New York. Eight more five-day sessions are planned for this year in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Denver and New York. Click here for more details on the schedule and to register. The course has a $2,400 fee.

This isn’t the first time this newsletter has discussed the ethical hacking certification. Linda Leung covered the topic in 2005. I’d like to hear from people who have taken ethical hacking courses. Was it useful? Did you learn anything that surprised you? Feel free to post a comment or send me an e-mail.

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